SEATTLE, March 27 -- In a game when point guard Gilbert Arenas was unusually quiet in the second half and the Washington Wizards were missing their third offensive option, Larry Hughes took it upon himself to ensure a much-needed 95-94 win over the Seattle SuperSonics at Key Arena on Sunday.
When the Wizards couldn't get much going offensively, the league's leader in steals created offense with his defense, twice stripping Seattle SuperSonics guard Ray Allen in the fourth quarter and converting on the other end. And when the Wizards' defense broke down and the team let an eight-point lead be whittled to one in the closing seconds, Hughes came up with the defensive play of the game.
Michael Ruffin provides the Wizards with hustle, plays all game long and cashes in with this dunk over Seattle's Vitaly Potapenko.
(John Froschauer - AP)
"We needed it and I was there to make it happen," Hughes said after scoring 31 points with 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals as the Wizards (38-30) maintained a one-game lead over the Chicago Bulls for the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference.
With 16 seconds left, the Sonics got the ball to their all-star, Allen, who backed down Hughes. When he turned to shoot, Hughes batted the ball from Allen, leading to a mad scramble and a desperation three-point shot by reserve point guard Antonio Daniels that was off the mark as the horn sounded.
"We are short-handed," Hughes said. "We all have to step up. Look in the mirror, come out and be better than we have been playing."
The Wizards improved to 2-2 on this Western Conference trip, which concludes Monday night in Portland, and they swept the Sonics for the first time since 1973. And, at 16-13, they posted a winning record against the West for the first time since 1997-98, when they went 17-7.
The Wizards were playing their first game since Nov. 6 without center Brendan Haywood in the starting lineup and he is expected to miss the next two to four weeks with a broken left thumb. The team also will likely have to wait until Friday or Sunday until Antawn Jamison -- their third significant scorer -- returns to the lineup.
"We met yesterday and said, 'Look, this is all we have,' " Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "It was just another gutsy effort. It was just a great, great win with what this road trip has sent us through. Our confidence has never shaken or ever been lost and we just fought hard."
Etan Thomas, starting in place of Haywood, had 15 points and Arenas had 18 points, 9 assists and 7 rebounds for the Wizards.
"Your heads are down a little bit because you're looking at your season like, 'Are we going to keep on getting injured?' " Arenas said. "But the players we got, they're out there fighting. That just shows the character we have, we're not giving up, no matter what our situation is. Hopefully, God will give us our whole team, some time in this life."
The game was tied at 80 in the fourth quarter, but after two Thomas free throws, Hughes stole the ball from Allen, sprinted toward the basket and got fouled as he sank a layup. Hughes hit the free throw to give the Wizards an 85-80 lead. Then he stole the ball from Allen again on the next trip and finished with a two-handed dunk.
Arenas went almost 21 minutes in the second half without scoring until he hit a turnaround jumper with 2 minutes 39 seconds left to give the Wizards a 93-85 lead. But the Wizards didn't value their possessions down the stretch and the lead was just one point when Sonics reserve forward Nick Collison converted a three-point play with 1:01 remaining. Hughes then found Kwame Brown cutting toward the basket and Brown was fouled by Collison. Brown had missed his four attempts from the line, but he made both free throws to give the Wizards a three-point lead. "I went up with confidence to try and knock them down," Brown said after scoring eight points.
But the Sonics answered when reserve forward Damien Wilkins sneaked under the basket to rebound a Allen miss and sink a layup with 37 seconds left. On the other end, Arenas drove inside and was called for an offensive foul, setting up the final sequence.
Allen had 27 points to lead the Sonics (48-21) -- who lost for the first time in six games -- but Allen shot just 7 for 20. In two games against the Wizards, Allen shot just 13 of 40 from the floor, with Hughes defending.
"Larry played at a high level, rebounding, steals, even just setting up our defense for us and being a leader," Jordan said. "We've missed that from him for almost a week. It was out there, he had it."
Hughes has had 16 steals in the four games on this trip.
The Wizards had 23 assists, compared to just 16 for the Sonics, and ended a string of 21 consecutive games in which they had fewer assists than their opponents. "We got it back to moving the ball and we won," Brown said. "This win does a lot for our team. A lot of guys, when we were losing, were starting to point fingers, starting to get down on other guys. So winning -- and especially winning without people -- helps guys regain trust."